Toronto woman pays her own way to Greek island to volunteer at refugee camp

WATCH ABOVE: A Toronto woman has paid her own way to a Greek island to volunteer at a refugee camp. She describes it as “chaos.” Christina Stevens has the story with a look at life in a refugee camp through her eyes.

TORONTO — Through murky Skype video, the best and worst of a refugee camp is laid bare. Behind the camera is Toronto woman Tia Tariq.

Tariq said she paid her own way to get to the Greek island of Leros to volunteer at a Syrian refugee camp there.

“Once I came down here I realized the chaos,” she said. “It’s utter chaos here. There’s just so much, it’s a forgotten island.”

She arrived at the camp just over a week ago and has barely slept since. “I’ve been up for 48 hours,” she said, adding she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because the need is too great.

By the time refugees get to the island, which amounts to just a stopover in their journey, they have already travelled for days, often without food.

“Either they pass away, they start fainting, or they are in the hospital, it is really crazy,” said Taniq.

Story continues below advertisement

Getting there requires a dangerous journey over water, and Tariq said sometimes all she can offer is emotional support.

“A father lost his whole family, literally eight members of his family,” she said. “That was the hardest, taking him to the hospital and leaving him there.”

Tariq explained it’s even up to the volunteers to deal with the bodies.

“Because it’s a very small island the morgue is not very big,” she said. “So right now you have four children, their bodies are in ice cream freezers because they don’t know what to do with them.”

As she walked through the camp, she was constantly interrupted by refugees needing things fixed, needing help, needing milk for a baby.

But she was always ready with an answer, but said refugees require more for their physical well-being.

“It is really cold here, my feet are freezing, my fingers are freezing,” she said, illustrating the need for warm clothing and bedding.

The refugees sleep in large, shared tents, if they can find room at all.

“You basically knock on them and you ask them how many people are there,” she said, adding if there is no room, they have to sleep outside on the gravel.

Story continues below advertisement

Tariq explained that because the camp is run by a hodgepodge of aid agencies, no one group is in charge — so it is up to the volunteers to coordinate care.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Through it all, Tariq adheres to one rule, hold your feelings inside.

“Because if you start crying, if you start showing emotion, you are not giving them any hope,” she said.